Devolution Bubbles…

Some discussions late last year got me very interested in understanding Devolution and what it really means in the Kenyan context. This with keen interest as this New Year is indeed an election year in our beloved country. While most folk are preoccupied with determining the exact date of the elections, who is running for what seat and what not, the gravity of this new dispensation is far much challenging than imagined, and thought, at least by me, and maybe a few others.

Simply defined, Devolution is the statutory granting of powers from the central government of a sovereign state to government at a subnational level. In our case, Counties, 47 of them as identified in the new constitution. Devolution can be mainly financial, e.g. giving areas a budget which was formerly administered by central government. However, our constitution as was promulgated gives room for both financial and legislative (I stand to be corrected). In the campaigns leading up to the vote on the then proposed constitution, federalism was such a term used by a section of opponents, even proponents of the constitution to describe the new governance structure. Devolution however, differs from federalism in that the devolved powers of the subnational authority may be temporary and ultimately reside in central government, thus the state remains, de jure unitary. Legislation creating devolved parliaments or assemblies can be repealed or amended by central government in the same way as any statute. That isn’t the case.

So why should I be writing anything in subject? Over the last few months I have by stray professional opportunities found myself in meetings and on project assignments that have pretty much opened my eyes and ears to issues and changes that are unvoiced. There are existing challenges already in establishing structures. Take for instance the following;

  • What happens to the various municipalities and councils? Nairobi Metropolitan (*cough*) for instance has about twenty municipalities; most town councils and county councils covering areas from Thika to Limuru, Kikuyu to Kiambu, Nairobi to Machakos, Mavoko towards Kajiado and such. With the new county government structures, a whole lot of confusion sinks in. There are many subjects here to worry about but I’ll simply highlight basic examples; Infrastructure Development, which county does what, what role will the Local Government Ministry have, how about the Ministry of Nairobi Metropolitan? And that of Works? What about the individual County Government’s programmes? How about the employees in the current setup? Where do they go? I did some service improvement project for one of those ministries; the frustration I got from folks who thought and still worry about their role in the upcoming government structure was in kind words unbearable. A whole lot of people are seriously exposed.
  • Water; as is there are about eight different water bodies or boards if you like in the country. Under those water boards, there exists Water Service Providers. A structure the Waste Management authorities some under the municipalities are trying to adopt. Earlier in a meeting, someone explained how a part of Nairobi gets water from Njambini, Kinangop. Obviously such arrangements will be affected with the new government structure.

I could go on with the banter on the obviously duplicated roles of the many government bodies, which of course will be more than multiplied after the elections but that’s not the point. I don’t have the information either on the plans in place to envisage a seamless transition; from central government to county governments on so many levels; financial resources, institutions, people, reporting structures, jobs, corruption… If I am involved ion assignments that are supposed to guide establishment of some of the said structures and I can see so much flawed procedure and lukewarm preparedness, how about those who will assume office, and how about those who will expect service. More importantly, you, who will pay for it? There is a bubble, and it will burst, at least somewhere.

While Devolution is something that will on many levels be good for our democratization, promote social and economic development, and a way to distribute state resources equitably, it still, at this point pretty much looks like ‘the breakup of the state’. We know what breakups do.

It is in my view that neither the CoE, CKRC nor Bomas had sufficient time to develop ideas on these matters (although a number of useful suggestions were made), and that it would be necessary to establish an independent commission (if there isn’t one yet) to deal with many issues relevant to this matter: the number and size of the devolved units, their structures of authority, and the mechanism of sharing national and regional resources. This commission would work also to develop capacity at both the national and devolved levels for the management of the system of devolution; and ensure that powers and resources are devolved gradually, as capacity is established at both levels. It would constantly review the progress of devolving powers to and their exercise by local governments, including the matter of costs and the duplication of functions. The commission would also be responsible for preparing legislation on devolution to supplement the general principles established in the constitution. Somehow, sanity would prevail in the transition.

Till Then, Cheers!


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